Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: The pup’s a punk

She freaks out at little and medium-size dogs

Boston terriers look in the mirror and see God instead of Dog.-Tom Shelby

Dear Tom,

I always see your great responses to dog questions in the MV Times, and I thought I’d email you with one (if you have the time!). We have an 8-month old Boston terrier who is great with people/kids and big dogs (we have two Dobermans). She loves them, and they play great together. When she meets other big dogs, she’s great too. It’s medium and small dogs we’re having a huge problem with. She absolutely freaks out. Snarling, barking, pulling her leash, and trying to nip them. She acts very aggressively, and I have no idea where this comes from…it started suddenly about a month ago. This happens with every small or medium dog she meets or sees. Is she trying to be dominant? It’s frustrating. Ah!




Dear Kelly,

My experience with a lot of the Boston terriers that I meet is that they are dyslexic. By that, I mean that when they look in the mirror they see God instead of Dog.

My kids’ grade-school report cards included the subject “works and plays well with others.” I’m of the impression that you’re Bossy Boston (BB) would get an NI (Needs Improvement) on her report card.

As dogs mature, more often than not they go from puppy, to punk, to young adult, to adult adult, and 8 months is right in the heart of punk age for a Boston terrier! And if BB’s socialization experience has basically been with two Dobermans, and she occasionally meets other dogs while on a leash, she probably needs some help with her socialization. Especially with small dogs, because BB seems to relate just to bigger dogs, thanks to the Dobermans.

Plus, dogs are much more likely to be aggressive on a leash than off one. Kelly, where you may think she’s protecting you, actually, she feels much more bold and secure with the leash connection. It’s like the little kid feeling pretty tough with his big brother standing behind him.

Not long ago, I had a similar situation with a 25-pound dog named Jelly who was aggressive with all dogs while her owner was holding the leash. We went to Tradewinds, and I had the owner drop the leash, saying happy things

while she walked away from Jelly whenever she was meeting and interacting with new dogs. Saying happy things because many people inadvertently increase the tension when meeting other dogs by tightening

the leash and saying their dog’s name with anxiety in their voice.

So now the dog feels the collar or harness tighten on her neck or body as she hears her name said in fear. So what’s she going to relate all this fear and tension to? The dog she’s about to meet! So, now, as soon as Jelly saw another dog approaching, the owner dropped the leash, creating distance from Jelly while very happily saying, “Look at that Jelly. That could be your next best friend! Isn’t that a nice dog!”

And with no tension on the leash, no tension in the voice, on the contrary, a happy, relaxed voice, and being on her own with the owner not having her back, Jelly quickly learned that friends are better than foes. This type of owner response helps with the basic socialization process, but you’re still left with her on-leash aggressive response to other dogs.

Happy talk and loose leash (not dropped) are part of the process, but corrections, praise with treats, and excellent timing are probably going to require the help of a pro for those on leashed doggy meetings. Especially because most owners inadvertently reward their dog’s aggression by saying, “It’s okay,” when it’s not okay!

Best of luck,

The Dogcharmer
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